Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Thanksgiving (reposted for 2010)

(This post was originally sent as an email to family and friends in 2008.)

The traditional "First Thanksgiving" was a three day feast in the early fall of 1621 at Plymouth Plantation involving 53 surviving Pilgrims and about 90 Wampanoag Indians.

Three of our ancestors were there, but unfortunately two were in the graveyard. Pratt ancestor Degory Priest and Woodruff ancestor Thomas Rogers died that first winter. Thomas' son Joseph, then an adolescent teenager, survived and participated. Pratt ancestor Phineas did not arrive until 1622. His famous run through the snow took place in the late fall of 1622. Degory's daughter Mary, who would eventually marry Phineas, was still in Holland.

William Bradford tells of their situation (modern spelling):

"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached of which this place abounds and when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."

PERSONAL NOTE: As I type this I am looking out over my back yard towards the river. The yard is snow covered and there are 17 wild turkeys foraging. One tom is displaying. Two are pecking at an ear of corn hanging by a small brass chain from a maple tree. That ear replaces one that was stripped overnight, presumably by deer. I have seven that regularly visit my yard and meadow.

Edward Winslow describes the feast (17th century spelling):

"our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes. many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."

NEXT: Menu and table manners

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